Good Fruit and Evil
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you’ve ever seen “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, which is the Charlie Brown Halloween special, then you may recall that Linus Van Pelt believes in the Great Pumpkin. On Halloween, as Linus believes, the Great Pumpkin rises from the pumpkin patch he deems to be “the most sincere”, and he flies around, bringing toys to all the good little boys and girls in the world. In hopes of luring the Great Pumpkin to his local pumpkin patch, Linus cries out, “Just look! Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see!” Linus may be sincere, but ultimately he is a false prophet: the Great Pumpkin does not exist. No amount of sincerity can create a Great Pumpkin to rise from the patch.
The Bible has plenty to say about false teachers. False teaching helped bring about the fall into sin, and false teachers have sought to do their work ever since. It began when the serpent said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the serpent had misled them. Though they did not immediately keel over, these people who were not supposed to be able to die were suddenly subject to illness and injury, suffering, and finally death. This has plagued the Church throughout its history.
False teaching is so dangerous because these false teachers tell us exactly what we want to hear. Paul diagnoses the problem for us in his second letter to Timothy: “They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” We’re not content to hear the Word of God as Spirit breathed it; we want to pick and choose what suits us. A man says, “Oh, she’s so pretty. So what if we’re both married?” So much for the Sixth Commandment. A woman says, “I’m pregnant, but I don’t want to be.” There goes the Fifth Commandment. Another says, “The Bible calls homosexuality ‘shameless’ and ‘an abomination’; but that’s just the product of a repressive society. We know better today.” Yet another bit of Scripture done away with.
The Church Militant is especially guilty of ignoring the Word of God. In fact, it is in the Church where false preachers do the most damage, because these false teachers claim to be speaking with the authority of Christ. The name of Jesus is a powerful thing, especially in the Church, where we are conditioned to believe what Jesus says and what the Apostles and Epistle writers have written in His name. It’s all too easy to attach the name of Jesus to opinions and pious desires and claim them as the true Word of God. Like Satan, these false teachers attempt to question the Word of God. They ask, “Did God really say what you think He said?” In the name of misguided love, in the name of gender equality, in the name of convenience, they set aside the truth of God’s Word. Yet on the Last Day, the formulators of these opinions will say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?” No matter how sincere they are, these are the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to consume the faithful, to lead them away from the truth, down the broad path that leads to the wide gate of destruction. And why are these false preachers successful in the Church? It’s because they’re saying exactly what we want to hear. We want to believe in a god who will reward a strong faith by making us healthy, wealthy and wise. We want to believe with Joel Osteen that God wants us to be prosperous here on earth. We want to believe that all people are basically good. We want to believe that we can earn our way to heaven. We desperately desire that evil fruit.
We are in that dark time when men will not tolerate the truth of God’s Word. False teachers have been so pervasive that these false teachings are seen as near-universal truth. Believers are misled by these teachings, and the faithless are confirmed in their errors. For these false teachers the Lord has only one response. He says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
But the Lord doesn’t leave us in the midst of these false teachings without any recourse. He tells us, “You will know [false prophets] by their fruits.” These words of Jesus come near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Up to this point He had taught His hearers about true righteousness, about faithfulness, prayer, and daily bread. After this he continued to teach the disciples about Scripture, and then He commanded them to baptize and to teach all nations “to observe everything I have commanded you”. He spent three years teaching the disciples how to recognize good fruit, and He commanded them to teach everyone else how to recognize it, too. False teachers are caught in their own web of lies. They have reason to doubt their eternal salvation. But you have been taught the truth. You have been taught by faithful pastors to recognize what is true, what is right, what is profitable for your salvation. You were given faith in your baptism, and that faith clings to the Word of God, allowing you to recognize and shun error, to confess the truth.
As you confess Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh, you do so as one in whom Christ dwells through your baptism, as one who belongs to Him. Because He has made you His own, you don’t seek after the false teachers and their bad fruit. Here in this place you receive the good fruit of the Word preached in its truth and purity. The Holy Supper in which you will soon partake is the best of good fruit, edifying your body and soul; and it feeds faithful sheep.
You know how to recognize the fruits of anyone who claims to be preaching of God. Does his teaching confess Christ as Savior? Does it confess Christ as both God and Man? Does it confess Christ as the One sent in the flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior? Does it confess that Christ died to bear our sins and rose again to bring us newness of life? If so, trust that teaching. Embrace it. Hold fast to it. And if not, then get rid of it. Flee from it. Run the false teacher out of your sanctuary and out of your life. The false teacher has no fruit that is edifying for you. He can only poison you.
Beware of false prophets. Test what they say, and flee from their teachings. Confess the truth as faithful parents, faithful teachers, and faithful pastors have taught it to you. What they have taught you is good fruit and is edifying for your soul. When you stand before Christ on the judgment day, He will recognize that good fruit in you as His own and will not send you away. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.